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Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson greets head coach Dwane Casey (L) during the team's first practice of their NBA basketball season in Toronto December 9, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Mike Cassese/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors Amir Johnson greets head coach Dwane Casey (L) during the team's first practice of their NBA basketball season in Toronto December 9, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

Raptors focus on defence Add to ...





With only a little more than a week of formal training-camp workouts, it is too early for Dwane Casey to have a good feel about what his team is all about.



The Toronto Raptors' rookie head coach will have a better idea come Sunday, when his team plays the first of two preseason games against the Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre.

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About the only thing Casey knows for sure is that the defence is way ahead of the offence. That shouldn't come as a huge surprise as Casey has spent most of camp drilling the Raptors in the finer aspects of defensive play, a foreign concept to the team a year ago.



"We still have a lot of work to do," Casey said this week. "Rome wasn't built in a day. We've changed some drills to game situations. That's why the exhibition games are going to be great for us."



Great for the coaching staff, maybe, but probably not for the fans who will be at Sunday's game hoping to be entertained by an offensive display. That's likely not going to happen because only about 50 per cent of Casey's offensive schemes have been introduced to the players.



So the focus on Sunday - what Casey will be looking for - will be the players' response to his mantra of defence, defence and more defence.



"Progress defensively," Casey said when asked what he will be looking for in the game. "Taking away layups, those solo layups going from the top of the key to the basket."



When Boston shoots, Casey will be checking to see if the Toronto defenders challenge by getting a hand in the face. He said the Raptors, who allowed an average of 105.4 points a game last season, fifth worst in he NBA, cannot afford to give up easy buckets.



"I think you're going to see a little bit different approach from the beginning," said Jose Calderon, the longest-serving Raptor (seventh year). He is expected to be the team's starting point guard when the regular season begins on Dec. 26.



"We are a more aggressive team," Calderon added. " I think we're going to be a more defensive team. We've got a lot of guys who can score points so we're not really worried about that."



The Raptors have been scrimmaging during practice with referees, and Casey was less than enthused by what he saw on Thursday. Too many turnovers, the coach groused, a bad habit the Raptors exhibited last season en route to a 22-60 finish. Toronto was among the worst in the NBA in turnovers, averaging 14.7 a game.



"Trying to do too much, I think," Casey said when asked what leads to turnovers. "A lot of times you get it, you get happy on the floor, you start dancing with the basketball."



Casey hopes to remedy the situation by having the players make quicker decisions on what they want to do, before the defence has a chance to set up.



Casey said he has been pleased with the play of James Johnson, who started in 25 games at small forward for Toronto last season after being obtained in a trade from the Chicago Bulls in February. Free-agent pickup Rasual Butler, however, is giving Johnson stiff competition for the starter's job.



"In one drill yesterday [Johnson]had five deflections, which is huge," Casey said. "James Johnson right now I would say in my book has played the best."

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